‘Heartbreaking’ – Children with special needs FIVE times more likely to be excluded from mainstream school
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Pupils with special needs are significantly more likely to be suspended from mainstream education than their peers, new figures show.
The data, compiled by the Suffolk County Council (SCC) Labour Group and based on Department for Education (DfE) figures, shows the fixed-term exclusion rate for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in mainstream schools stood at 19.21% in 2017/18, compared with 3.46% for other pupils.
This means children with special needs were 5.5 times more likely to be suspended than their peers.
However, these figures do not necessarily mean one in five children with SEND, or three in one hundred without SEND, received suspensions - as some pupils would have been sent home multiple times.
In 2017/18, 7% of children with special needs were excluded from mainstream education more than once, compared with 1.6% of their peers.
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Jack Abbott, Labour spokesman for children's services, education and skills, said the figures point to a "deep malaise" in Suffolk's education system.
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"For the second year in a row, Suffolk is right at the top of the primary school exclusion table, and, once again, it is children from disadvantaged backgrounds and with special educational needs who have been disproportionately affected," he said.
"Some of the numbers are heartbreaking and point to a deep malaise in our education system.
"Years of real-term funding cuts have undoubtedly been a major factor, but that does not explain why Suffolk is consistently in the national headlines for all the wrong reasons.
"Those in power at Suffolk County Council need to tackle this issue head on and start delivering the leadership and vision that has been missing for so long.
"Let's see a significant investment in and expansion of our county's early years provision, rather than frantically looking for cheap, quick fixes. Let's start tackling identified need well before reaching crisis point, providing children, families and schools with the support and resources they desperately need.
"With determination, bravery and ideas, we can start making life better for the children of Suffolk."
However Gordon Jones, SCC cabinet member for children's services, education and skills, criticised Mr Abbott's assessment of the figures.
"I am really disappointed to see the Labour Group using the most vulnerable children in Suffolk to create a scaremongering situation like this," he said.
"We have a legal duty to complete an EHCP assessment for every child with SEND to ensure they have the correct level of support they require.
"I fully accept there is more we can do to speed up the assessment process but to use these children in such a way to suggest that they should be written off and expected to be excluded is frankly shocking.
"There is of course a much higher chance that all these children will thrive in education with the support of the family, teachers and peers. That is what we are focussed on. Delivering positive outcomes for children with SEND and investing in solutions to improve the timely assessment of support, not continually causing fear and anxiety amongst families by finding obscure data to suit political views without offering tangible solutions."
'Children's needs are not being met'
Anne Humphrys, co-chair of Suffolk Parent Carer Network (SPCN), said exclusions should "never be routine" and the decision should only be taken "after all other options have been exhausted".
"That means schools meeting a child's needs, applying for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) if needed and working with the parents and local authority if they feel they need additional support," she said.
"SPCN has been concerned about the number of pupils on SEND support or with EHCPs being given fixed term or permanent exclusions and we have raised this with Suffolk County Council and will continue to monitor the situation.
"These figures do not include illegal or informal exclusions, such as sending a pupil home 'to cool off' which are unlawful, regardless of whether they occur with the agreement of parents or carers, which is why we continue to emphasise to families the process that must happen for legal exclusions.
"We also know from our annual survey that significant numbers of EHCPs are not being implemented in full which means that children and young people's needs are not being met."
A spokeswoman for the DfE said: "Following the Timpson Review, we are consulting on how to make schools more accountable for the students they permanently exclude, working with Ofsted to clamp down on off-rolling, and calling on local areas to explain or change trends in exclusions for certain groups of children who are more likely to be excluded.
"We know that school leaders do not take the decision to exclude lightly, and permanent exclusion should only be used as a last resort.
"While a fixed term exclusion may still be an appropriate sanction, schools should take account of any contributing factors and underlying causes of disruptive behaviour, which could include where the pupil has mental health problems or SEN.
"Suffolk Local Authority is receiving over £64million in high needs funding this year."
The exclusion rate was calculated by taking the total number of fixed term exclusions as a percentage of the student headcount in each category.